Letter: Stop Artificial Turf Fields; Protect Greenwich Children

Submitted on September 5, 2018 by Liane Tel, Greenwich

We are a group of parents and residents of Greenwich who are deeply concerned with the Board of Education’s (BoE) plan as it relates to the middle school fields.

The Board of Education wants to tear up the grass fields at ALL the middle schools and replace them with artificial/synthetic turf starting with Central Middle School followed by Western and Eastern Middle Schools.

To be clear, we support the need for more fields for student activities but are opposed to the use of artificial or synthetic turf.

In speaking with over one thousand Greenwich residents, we have discovered that many residents are unaware of the BoE’s intentions and the impact it will have on our children. For many years to come, our elementary and middle school children will be continually exposed to toxic chemicals, decomposing hazardous materials and carcinogens during gym and after-school activities on a daily basis.

First Selectman Peter Tesei supports the continued use of natural grass and has stated this position on record multiple times. In the Town of Greenwich Capital Improvement Plan (TOG CIP) dated January 16, 2018, Mr. Tesei requested the planning and design of a natural grass field. Whilst Mr. Tesei’s position is clear, the same cannot be said for the BoE.

In February 2018, the BoE changed Mr. Tesei’s capital request from grass to synthetic turf. In March 2018, they selected Central Middle School to be the first middle school to be artificially turfed. Under questioning during a District 8 RTM meeting they said no school was selected. In April 2018, the BoE issued talking points claiming no decision had been made about grass or artificial turf. Based on the CIP, this is not true.

The BoE has been disingenuous and evasive about their position regarding artificial turf.

To our knowledge, the BoE is currently doing a feasibility study with the aim of getting funding in January 2019 to install artificial turf at Central Middle School in 2019/2020.

BoE subterfuge notwithstanding, the fact remains that the lack of public awareness of the detrimental health impact on our children and the public is undeniable.

How do you feel when you read this?

Tips for safer play on artificial turf as recommended by Mount Sinai’s Children’s Environmental Health Center, dated May, 2017.

• Avoid use on very hot days
• Avoid use for passive activities (i.e. sitting, lounging, picnicking)
• Monitor young children to prevent accidental ingestion
• Always wear shoes on artificial turf
• Wash hands before eating, drinking, or adjusting mouth guard
• Clean cuts and abrasions immediately
• Brush hair thoroughly after play
• Remove and clean shoes and gear outside before getting in car
• At home, take off shoes and shake out children’s equipment & clothes outside or over the garbage
• Shower immediately after playing on artificial turf
• Vacuum any infill that comes into your home

Are these the tips one associates with something that is safe for the public?

There is irrefutable evidence that the materials used to create the backing, blades of artificial grass and infill contain varying quantities of lead, cadmium and zinc along with other toxins and known carcinogens.

The EPA, CDC and OSHA have all provided health warnings when playing on or working with artificial turf.

Artificial turf surfaces are more likely to be colonized with bacteria. According to the CDC, artificial turf presents all five risk factors known to cause MRSA infection. As a result, a simple abrasion could turn into a more serious staph infection such as MRSA, an infection resistant to many of the commonly used first-line antibiotics.

Artificial turf is 35-55 degrees hotter than natural grass and can injure or burn skin. Along with burns, children are more likely to experience dehydration, heat stroke, and heat blisters.

The environment is also at risk. As the materials break down from usage and weather, microscopic fibers are released in the air, which are inhaled by players and spectators. These toxins leach from the playing fields and pollute our water.

We have over 1,000 residents’ signatures on both our online and off-line petitions supporting our position. We have the support of medical experts around the country, including Yale University’s Environmental and Health Sciences Department, National Center for Health Research in Washington, DC; the Children’s Environmental Health Center at Mount Sinai Hospital, Toxics Action Center in Massachusetts, and Environment & Human Health, Inc. in Connecticut, all of whom have expressed support and/or a willingness to speak on our behalf.

Our goal is to have 1,500+ signatures on the desk of the First Selectman and BET later this year with the aim of stopping ANY Middle School field from being converted to artificial/synthetic turf.

The BoE and Greenwich’s public servants have a moral obligation to act in the best interest of our children, to protect all those in the Greenwich Public Schools system and to ensure the safety of public health.

Our kids should play on REAL GRASS fields; fields that are professionally designed and maintained by trained groundskeepers; fields that are safe for people and the environment.

Many have commented that the potential harm is minimal. The question we should be asking ourselves is not how much harm is acceptable, but rather how much harm is avoidable?

We encourage all Greenwich residents to join the discussion. For more information, please visit our website http://bit.ly/RealGrassinGreenwich.